Pennsylvania’s gas tax to jump 3.5 cents in 2023

For Pennsylvania drivers, gas at the pump may soon cost more, thanks to a 2013 state law enacted to fund road and bridge improvements.

The commonwealth’s gas tax is scheduled to rise 3.5 cents in 2023, an increase levied on wholesalers that will likely be passed on consumers.

From the current 57.6 cents per gallon, the tax will rise to 61.1 cents per gallon next year, according to a notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

Meanwhile, the tax on diesel fuel is set to climb from 74.1 cents per gallon to to 78.5 cents per gallon.

Pennsylvania’s gas tax is already one of the highest in the nation, ranking in the top three.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

More highs than lows in Lehigh Valley economy for 2022 

The 2022 economy was a wild ride in the Lehigh Valley. Still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the region saw economic highs and lows in a year that was anything but typical. 

Overall, however, economic development officials in the Lehigh Valley said the 2022 economy is strong and has evolved greatly over the past 12 months. 

“It has been a tumultuous year,” said Rich Hobbs, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley. “There have been transformational changes.” 

The year began, he said, with a great number of challenges including supply chain issues, logistical and transportation problems and a significant workforce shortage. 

“At the beginning of the year there was a craze trying to hire workers which drove up wages,” he said. 

While there is still a hiring press, he said it’s not as crazed at the end of 2022 as it was in the beginning of the year and wages are starting to normalize to more stable levels. 

Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Deveopment Corp., said overall the economy was stronger in the Lehigh Valley in 2022 than in other parts of country.  

He noted that Site Selection Magazine, which tracks 350 metro regions, has named the Lehigh Valley as one of the top economic development markets for the last several years in both the Northeastern U.S and nationally among markets of its size. 

The region made the list because of the large number of new commercial developments each year, and 2022 was no exception. 

“We’re going full speed ahead in economic growth,” Cunningham said. 

He pointed to such projects as pet food manufacturer Spot & Tango moving to the Lehigh Valley as well as major expansion projects including the $200 million expansion at B Braun, a medical device manufacturer. 

According to the LVEDC, the region had a record low vacancy rate of 3.7%, and the Lehigh Valley’s real estate market grew to 145 million square feet, indicating a robust demand for space. 

“One of the biggest challenges is finding locations to open,” he said. 

Because of the low inventory and high demand, rent rose to $8.70 per square foot. The Lehigh Valley is still a bargain, however. The price is nearly half the rate of properties in nearby northern and central New Jersey.  

All totaled, 658,000 square feet of new industrial and flex space added to the market. 

For those manufacturers already doing business in the Lehigh Valley, supply chain and material costs have remained an issue, said Hobbs. 

“There’s still a lot of juggling with the supply chain,” said Hobbs. 

One bit of good news is that many companies, having learned from severe material shortages during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, are keeping more stock close at hand. 

“Many companies have stocked up,” he said. 

One continued weak spot in the local economy has been the professional office space sector, said Cunningham. 

He said that while elsewhere in the economy it’s been “pedal to the metal with nothing slowing down,” there is still a significant amount of vacancy in office space as many companies have allowed staffers to work from home. 

“Companies are not opening new office space right now,” he said. 

That has been a boost for the hospitality industry, however, as more companies are using hotel conference and meeting spaces as a substitute for offices when they plan meetings and conferences. 

According to Discover Lehigh Valley, which promotes tourism in Lehigh and Northampton counties, the region was top in hotel occupancy rates among communities of similar size in Pennsylvania.  

Alex Michaels, president and CEO of the authority sited a 2021-2022 report from Smith Travel Research, which showed overnight visitor stays reached 16.1 million in the Lehigh Valley for the fiscal year, that’s up 28.6% from 2020. 

The bottom line is that most economic development officials see things returning to “normal.” 

“We are continuing to measure things from a pre-pandemic perspective,” said Aaron Gantz, senior director of economic development for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance. 

She said with a lower number of participants in the workforce, finding quality workers continues to be a struggle for employers and likely will for some time.  But, like Hobbs said, it’s not at the level it was in the beginning of the year.  

One advantage the Berks region has is its relative affordability compared to some surrounding regions. The Lower cost of living makes it more attractive for people to move to and find jobs in the area, which should help with the employment situation. 

And affordability was a big challenge across the Lehigh Valley as a whole. While, yes, housing and apartments are less expensive than nearby major metropolitan areas like New York City and Philadelphia, housing affordability is a concern. 

According to Rent Café, the average rent for an apartment in Lehigh Valley is $1,585. That varies greatly based on location, size and quality. 

And in single family homes there has also been a struggle. By year’s end the average home price in Pennsylvania was about 9.5% higher than a year prior, but the average home price was still lower than the record high of $219,154, which was set in July.   

Pennsylvania Association of Realtors President Christopher Beadling said affordability has become an issue for many potential homebuyers.  

“The number of sales has leveled out with the higher interest rates. These higher rates are primarily affecting first-time buyers who need a mortgage,” he said. 

While growth may have slowed in home sales and new commercial construction, the economy is still strong, just stabilizing in the Lehigh Valley, said Mark Chubb, senior managing director for Colliers commercial real estate. 

“There’s no reason to panic,” he said. “There’s still plenty of growth.” 

He said the Lehigh Valley remains a strong target for economic development. 

Reading-area projects get $20.5M in state money

State Sen. Judy Schwank announced $20.5 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant funding for seven projects in her 11th Senatorial District.

· Alvernia University was awarded $7.5 million for the development of the vacant sixth floor of the Reading CollegeTowne building, allowing the university to expand program offerings and student housing.

· Reading Area Community College received $5 million for the Weitz Health Pavilion to fund a series of physical improvements to increase learning space for health care students and workers. The project would allow all health care programming to be housed in one building.

· Albright College was granted $3 million to renovate the Leo Camp Building, which will become home to the Science Research Institute. The institute offers after-school and summer learning programs to middle school and high school-age students. Renovations will include the addition of a food and brewery science lab.

· Olivet Boys and Girls Club received $1 million for safety and infrastructure improvements around four centers operating in Reading, including electrical, HVAC and plumbing upgrades.

· KidsPeace was allocated $1 million for improving at its Berks County facility in Muhlenberg Township. The funding will go toward an upgraded HVAC system; roof replacement; health and safety upgrades; and repaved sidewalks around the facility.

· FirstEnergy Stadium was awarded $2 million in continued support of renovations that are necessary to meet the facility standard issued by Major League Baseball.

· Reading Housing Authority was given $1 million to support the Oakbrook Homes Center for Community Services. The project will renovate the former boiler plant to create a core, shell and exterior for a new Family Services Complex.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Gov. Wolf announces $1.7 billion COVID recovery plan for Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Wolf announced a plan on Wednesday to invest $1.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help the state recover from the pandemic—a bid that critics say fails to put taxpayers first. 

The plan would invest $225 million into small business support; $204 million for relief for low-income renters and homeowners; $325 million for Pennsylvania’s healthcare system; $450 million for conservation, recreation and preservation; and $500 for a new PA Opportunity Program, which would provide relief to workers and families from the cost of childcare and household expenses. 

“As Pennsylvania endured the pandemic, we strategically invested to support small businesses, frontline workers, agriculture, healthcare, first responders, and more. This ensured that Pennsylvania survived,” said Wolf. “Now it’s time for Pennsylvanians to thrive and investing $1.7 billion in a bright future for this commonwealth will give Pennsylvanians a sense of security and a clear path forward.” 

Wolf was joined by Senate and House Democratic leaders at the capital on Wednesday to reveal the plan, which would be funded solely through federal dollars and not any general fund appropriations. 

The plan would include funding for The COVID Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program, which would provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. 

It would also provide an additional $204 million investment into the existing Property Tax Rent Rebate program. 

For Pennsylvania’s health care industry, the plan sets aside $250 million for long-term care recruitment and retention incentives, $40 million for the behavioral health workforce to expand county mental health programs and $25 million to expand the student loan foreverness program at PHEAA to include additional critical health care workers. 

“Our state’s economy can’t fully recover until all Pennsylvanians can share in its recovery,” said House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Delaware and Philadelphia. “These targeted investments, drawn on a portion of the commonwealth’s American Rescue Plan dollars, will help thousands of Pennsylvania families and small businesses rebound from the repeated challenges caused by COVID-19.” 

The plan has been met with skepticism by House Republicans. 

In a joint statement released Monday afternoon, Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster; House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre and Mifflin; and House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said the proposals were “developed in a fiscal fantasy land where concern for future fiscal years apparently doesn’t exist.” 

Gov. Wolf and his Democratic allies have only put forward the largest cradle-to-grave tax increases in Pennsylvania history and proposals that will increase the cost for Pennsylvania families to heat their homes to fuel their desired unchecked spending regardless of the economic circumstances,” the House leaders wrote in the statement. “In short, the only reason the economic difficulties that have been brought upon the nation by federal Democratic leadership over the last year have not happened in Pennsylvania sooner is because Republican leadership has kept this administration in check.” 

Wolf administration launches $350 million Pa. homeowner assistance fund 

Pennsylvania homeowners that are at or below 150% of their region’s median income will soon be able to apply for financial assistance through the new Pennsylvania Homeowner Assistance Fund (PAHAF). 

The Wolf administration announced this week that the new fund, administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), has been approved by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

The fund consists of $350 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds through the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Homeowner Assistance Fund and will be given to Pennsylvania homeowners grappling with unforeseen financial hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“As we continue to advance our COVID-19 recovery efforts, we must address the rising number of homeowners facing possible loss of their homes and foreclosure – this program will do just that,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “The Homeowner Assistance Fund will prioritize individuals and families with the greatest need, as well as those who are socially disadvantaged. I am grateful that the U.S. Treasury has approved Pennsylvania’s plan, and we can start the new year by distributing this critical funding to homeowners.”   

PAHAF will use the funds to provide eligible Pennsylvania homeowners with much-needed assistance to prevent and/or ease mortgage delinquencies, defaults, foreclosures, displacement and utility disconnection. 

Our mission is to help Pennsylvanians achieve housing stability despite the many hardships faced during these uncertain times,” said Robin Wiessmann, executive director and CEO of the PHFA. “PAHAF will provide critical support to eligible Pennsylvania homeowners, allowing families to recover and helping communities overcome the devastating financial and economic impacts of the pandemic.“ 

Applications for the fund open on Feb. 1. applicants that qualify for the assistance must be a Pennsylvania homeowner that saw a reduction of income or increase in living expenses due to the pandemic after January 21, 2020. 

The Giant Company donates $100,000 to community organizations 


The Giant Company donated $100,000 to nine organizations as part of Giving Tuesday. The recipients included the nonprofits Lancaster County Project for the Needy, and Harrisburg-based Keystone Human Services. 

“This Giving Tuesday donation is our largest to date and reflects the important and unique work each of these nine organizations are doing in our communities to help eliminate hunger,” said Jessica Groves, community impact manager at Giant. 

Other organizations receiving donations from the Carlisle-based company include: Between Friends Outreach, Doylestown; Caring for Friends, Philadelphia; Harrisburg University and Keystone Human Services, Harrisburg; Keystone Kidspace, York; The Miller Center, Lewisburg; and the YMCA of Bucks County. 

Giant’s contributions to Keystone Kidspace will supply the organization’s Kitchen Lab for three years, and Giant dietitians will provide on-site programming, according to a company press release. 

“Their sponsorship support makes it possible for our programs to go beyond traditional education about healthy nutrition and wellness to truly empower the next generation of Yorkers to feed themselves, their families and their communities,”” said Jessica Brubaker, co-founder and executive director at Keystone Kidspace. 

At Keystone Human Services, Giant’s donation will support the organization’s Capital Area Head Start nutrition impact program. 

“Partnerships like this are what continue to make Head Start a great place to both work and learn. This collaboration will help reduce food insecurities, increase nutrition experiences in the classroom, and introduce children to the concept of farm to table,” said Amber Coleman, director of operations at Capital Area Head Start. 

Pennsylvania to receive $100,000 grant for workforce digital literacy 

The state Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) announced on Tuesday that Pennsylvania will be awarded up to $100,000 to provide technical assistance to ensure job seekers have the skills needed to participate in a rapidly changing workforce.

Pennsylvania has been chosen to join a collaborative of six states looking to prepare their workforce for the rapid changes in technology effecting workplaces through the National Governors Association’s Workforce Innovation Network (NGA WIN).

“Pennsylvania workers deserve every opportunity for success in their careers, and this collaboration with the National Governors Association will support the Wolf Administration’s ongoing efforts to make digital-skills training accessible to Pennsylvanians and meaningful in their pursuit of gainful employment,” said L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier.

The money comes from the National Governors Association’s Workforce Innovation Network, or NGA WIN. Pennsylvania joins Hawaii, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Rhode Island in the NGA WIN program.

Each NGA WIN team, consisting of representatives from Governors’ offices, workforce development agencies and state workforce boards, will work on a state vision for closing digital equity and workforce achievement gaps, according to a statement from L&I.

Through grant program, states will be able to expand access to essential support services, connect jobseekers to work, advance digital access and skill development and enhance job quality.

“Governors are leading with creative solutions to help workers and job seekers access the tools they need to succeed in a rapidly changing economy, and NGA is honored to support them,” said Timothy Blute, director of the NGA Center. “We look forward to working with these six states to help them develop and implement strategies to improve access to the digital skills that are increasingly essential to both workers and businesses.”

NGA WIN was founded in January as a nonpartisan action collaborative for state leaders. Case studies and best practices from this first round of state grants are expected to be published this year.

Wolf expected to sign ‘fiscally responsible’ budget that disappoints business groups

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign a $40.8 billion general fund budget that includes the largest education funding increase in state history and allocates millions of dollars from Pennsylvania’s share of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for rental assistance, child care, nursing home and long-term care recovery and more, before its Wednesday deadline.

But the budget, praised for its bipartisanship, disappointed business groups who thought it should do more to help employers harmed by the pandemic.

The bipartisan consensus reached to bring together a timely budget was good to see, but the spending plan does not do enough to tackle hurdles for Pennsylvania businesses, such as improving the state’s corporate net income tax rate, said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

“While we are pleased with the bipartisan consensus reached in this budget, we believe much more work needs to be done to boost the Commonwealth’s competitiveness,” said Barr. “We encourage the legislature to embrace our Rise to the Challenge initiative to help the private sector chart a new course to a thriving economy that will lead to more jobs and opportunities for all Pennsylvanians.”

The budget does not include any of the tax increases proposed by Wolf in his February proposed budget.

Following its approval last week, Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin/Perry, called the budget fiscally responsible for not including the proposed taxes, which included a 46% Personal Income Tax hike and the imposition of an energy tax.

“This budget makes record investments in our schools, provides for essential government services and forgoes the Governor’s proposed tax hikes on hardworking Pennsylvanians as our economy recovers from the pandemic,” DiSanto said. “Rather than spend all this year’s surplus and federal stimulus funds as the Democrats have been advocating, this budget prudently anticipates tomorrow’s challenges and assures the Commonwealth is in a solid financial position to address next year’s projected budget deficit.”

The budget details how the state will use funds given to it through the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes $728.9 million to help stabilize the child care industry.

“This investment will allow parents to return to work with the comfort of knowing their young children are in safe and nurturing child care. This crucial support will help families and employers,” Wolf said.

The budget allots $450 million in ARP funding for rental assistance, $350 million for homeowner mortgage assistance, $36 million to help pay water bills and $30 million in new state dollars for violence intervention.

Another $282 million in ARP funding is set aside to help nursing homes and long-term care facilities recover from the pandemic, something that nursing home workers rallied for on the steps of the state Capitol earlier this month.

“After an unprecedented 18 months of a pandemic which took the lives of over 27,000 Pennsylvanians and devastated our healthcare workforce, PA legislators have reached a budget agreement that listens to caregivers and begins to address the long work ahead to rebuild and reform our healthcare system,” said Matthew Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest union of nurses and healthcare workers.

The budget does not include the PA Heroes Act, which would have set aside $650 million in ARP funds to support grants for community programs to bolster post-pandemic health care.

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), an ardent advocate for the act and a statewide organization made up of 240 state health care providers, called the exclusion a “failure to address newly emerging challenges.”

“We offered a carefully crafted plan to support healthcare workers, to rebuild the infrastructure we need for the next pandemic, and to address the behavioral health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Andy Carter, president and CEO of HAP. “The plan is also specifically designed to target resources where they are needed and includes strict accountability for implementing real improvements to care. Yet, lawmakers are leaving town with those plans sitting on the drawing board, ignored.”

The budget allocates $416 million to public education funding with $200 million going to increase the state’s Fair Funding Formula for school districts, and $100 million for Level Up, a new initiative providing funding for Pennsylvania’s 100 most underfunded districts.

It also provides a $50 million increase in funding for special education, a $30 million increase for early education and $20 million for Ready to Learn, $11 million for preschool Early Intervention and $5 million for community colleges.

$400 million in ARP funds will be invested to address learning loss, provide summer enrichment and after school programs for Pennsylvania school districts and make college education more affordable and accessible for students entering the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.